I landed in Douala, Cameroon, for the first time nearly three years ago, on a mission. Not a mission of building churches or schoolhouses. My purpose waxed more sensual than spiritual and more selfish than selfless. As I wound through the scarcely lit airport terminal, with walls like wet paper bags, I batted away mosquitoes and fought my way past eager bag-handlers and SIM card salesmen. My pulse quickened as I thought about my assignment for the next five days: love under the mosquito net.
I had come to Douala for a quickie with my husband, Brian. We'd spent much of the past three years separated, because of his work on a project in Cameroon for an Arlington-based energy company. Squeezing in a booty call between our home in northern Virginia and his work in West Africa, we experienced something explosive: the new quickie of the twenty-first century. For a lot of today's lovers, staying connected is more complicated than carving out five minutes alone in the bedroom.
Separating from our loved ones defies traditional logic, but our grandparents' stories of never spending more than one night apart have yellowed in the archives of relationship history. In today's flaccid economy, lovers have no choice but to follow their jobs, rather than their hearts. In 2008, 3.4 million married couples lived apart for reasons other than unhappiness, up from 2.7 million married couples in 2000, according to the most recent U.S. Census data. While many couples like us live, love and work across multiple time zones, our quickies have kept us together over the long haul.
In today's flaccid economy, lovers have no choice but to follow their jobs, rather than their hearts.
Trust me. I'm a veteran. In 2001, before married life, Brian and I dated long distance while he worked in Hong Kong and I lived in Atlanta. We met in Atlanta while working for the same company, but his career took him away from headquarters. Fighting the naysayers drew us closer, and quickies from Madrid to Manila made us high on love. Every time felt like the first time, and after more than four years of dating, two of which were long distance, we wed in 2005.
The quickie, however, made a comeback in our relationship when Brian accepted a temporary gig in Cameroon. Each time he left for Africa, sometime for weeks, I dropped him off at Washington's Dulles airport. We perfected our hellos and goodbyes hugging and kissing on the curb outside Dulles. In the fall of 2006, and with me seven months pregnant, we reconstituted the quickie in London, and our hugs and kisses got tighter and hotter every time one of us stepped on a plane.
As his assignment dragged on, passing the year marker, Brian's passport proved that we spent more time apart than together. Going on family trips and visiting friends kept me busy back at home. But showing up alone too many times got people talking. Constantly defending our living arrangement exhausted me.
"Brian left you again," one of my neighbors loved to joke. After the birth of our daughter in December 2006, friends and family would say, "You're raising that kid alone." When loneliness struck, I visited my friend Annie. An Army wife and former soldier, she understood the pain and the gain of long-distance love. Annie served in Iraq in 2005, separated from her husband, Michael, a captain in the Army who also served in Iraq. After they returned home, she ended her military career, but their long-distance chapter continued. Ordered to Washington, D.C., Michael moved ahead of a pregnant Annie, who stayed at their home in Georgia for months. Their new mission was to keep their guns blazing for each other with quickies all along the East Coast.
After that first round of separation, they lived and loved for two years under the same roof in Alexandria, Virginia. The couple recently separated again in May when Michael redeployed to Iraq for more than a year.
"I don't think it affects our marriage in a bad way at all," she said. "In fact, I think it makes us closer."
Despite data to the contrary, people want to believe that long-distance relationships systematically fail, but a study by the Rand Corporation, a research firm based in Santa Monica, Calif., concluded that deployed military couples divorced each other at a lesser rate than military couples living together. If couples fighting a war can hold things together, surely civilian long-distance lovers have a shot at keeping love alive.
Others draw the same conclusion. In July 2005, my friends Ranjit and Brigit met in Moscow, where Brigit studied Russian and Ranjit worked in the telecommunications industry. Love blossomed between the Indian-American businessman and the German saleswoman.
The months of webcam calls and smelling his pillowcase at night stirred an intense sense of longing in me.
When their summer of love ended, Brigit returned to her work in Germany. First, they cautiously considered the pros and cons of a long-distance arrangement. Then, the quickies commenced: Paris, Munich, London, New York and San Francisco.
Three years, and multiple cross-continental quickies later, the couple exchanged vows in Ansbach, Germany last summer among an international group of friends (some of whom took advantage of the occasion for their own quickies). At the reception, Ranjit pointed guests to their assigned tables, which were named after all the cities where the couple had had "dates."
For Brian and me, our dates to Lebanon, Morocco, London, South Africa and Cameroon propelled us through long and short periods of our separation. With limited togetherness, we fought less, and when we did fight, we made up faster. Interacting less means having fun matters more.
More than two and a half years into our long-distance marriage, our passion for each other reminded us of our early days of dating. The combined months of webcam calls and smelling his pillowcase at night stirred an intense sense of longing in me. At that point, just the thought of reaching up and kissing Brian's actual lips sent flutters through my stomach. So when he called shortly after my third mission to Cameroon to say our quickies were over, my heart sank. Then he explained that his job demands now required that we all move to Douala to live permanently. Sitting alone in our kitchen in Alexandria, my pulse quickened as I daydreamed about our future: love under one roof. n°
|ABOUT THE AUTHOR:|
|Jamie Rich lives in Douala, Cameroon with her husband and their two-year-old daughter. When not in West Africa, she makes her home in Alexandria, Virginia. Her work has appeared in Washingtonian, Washingtonian Bride & Groom and Northern Virginia Magazine.|